Saturday, June 22, 2019

Race for the White House 2020 # 25

The political drama intensifies and it should be a newsworthy week. It has now been a bit of time since a new candidate has entered the fray and the attention of the political junkie and Democrat activist world (and the Tweeter in Chief) will be on Miami for back to back debate nights featuring 20 total Democrat candidates. Will any of them drop out after a disappointing showing? Doubtful. Will anyone be talked about as surprising in a strong way? Likely. Will the vast majority of attention be paid to the performance of Joe Biden? Certainly.

In the meantime, candidates have spent much of this weekend in South Carolina trying to round up support among the heavily Republican state's remaining collection of Democrats. Palmetto State polls show a large lead for Biden and much room to be made up by others, including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, in a state they will need to do well in, considering the large amount of African-Americans who will compose the electorate.

As the Democrats continue to jockey for position, Donald Trump continues to act as President in unorthodox and unprecedented ways. This week, he appeared alongside Vice President Mike Pence to kick off their reelection campaign officially in Orlando, Florida, nearly four years to the date where he first came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for the White House and was roundly dismissed by many pundits, amateur and pro, including yours truly.

The crowd size and enthusiasm for those who hope for "four more years" was unmistakable and Trump's pure exuberance in speaking at length before an adoring crowd is clear. He remains perhaps the largest political showman of our time, although the messages he pushed and the lines he used from "Build the Wall" to "Crooked Hillary" are clearly the greatest hits of the last campaign. Will it be enough this time or will the outsider who is now theoretically the most powerful man on the planet be pushed for more by the country?

Just this past week, Trump curiously Tweeted (advance notice) that ICE would be rounding up many illegal immigrants and throwing them out of the country. This had officials in many big cities  taking warning and proceeding to warn people about how to protect themselves. ICE itself seems to not know much about any such plan and the weekend is likely to pass without major incidents. This is just one more example of Trump being able to Tweet something and generate news, albeit likely all for show. In that same regard, freshman New York Congresswoman, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez made news this week when she referred to immigrant detention centers on the border as "concentration camps." Even many of her fellow Democrats felt this rhetoric went too far and played into the hands of Trump, as others defended the term which of course resonates back to Nazis and the Holocaust. While I happen to find much abhorrent about the Trump policy at the border, the specific use of "concentration camps" I believe was politically grotesque and despicable and does nothing to solve the problem which many people across the aisle wish to fix.

Even more substantively this week, were developments that we are told was close to bringing "war" with Iran. Needless to say the Middle East theocracy is no friend of the United States and has been acting in provocative ways as of late, (despite the overwhelming need and desire of Democrats to falsely create a narrative that Barack Obama fixed the problem.) This week, Iran shot down an unmanned but very expensive U.S. military drone. Iran says it was in their airspace, but that is almost certainly not the case. Trump took this news by saying Iran made a "big mistake" but then weirdly seemed to indicate it might have all been some sort of mix up or rogue action taken by someone in Iran. Not likely a all. They knew exactly what they were doing.

So, speculation unfolded about what the President, who campaigned strongly on "ending endless Middle East Wars" would do, especially considering perceived hawks in his Administration and among Congressional Republican allies. (The new nominee for Secretary of Defense this week also was forced to withdraw after news suddenly surfaced about past ugly family problems.) Democrats were near certain that Trump would "start a war" and many fretted what that might mean in the short term regarding his poll standing.  Trump took to Twitter to say that he had the military "cocked and loaded" (an interesting choice of words to say the least) but pulled back on plans to strike Iran via air with 10 minutes to spare after being told by a general that 150 people would die. I find the whole narrative pretty hard to believe.

Look, being President is a tough job for anyone, and without having all the information, I am not going to second guess in general the decision to not launch major military actions over the drone. What I find unseemly is the public narrative and back and forth over the decision.  It just seems like it is all for show in the end and that Trump backed down and Iran won the standoff. I have no desire to see the U.S. engaged in a full war with Iran and I recognize the risk to American troops around the world for any sort of action taken, but I think it will be an overall mistake to completely let Iran off the hook. Time will tell if their behavior gets even worse. In the meantime, I do not know whether we should be grateful or confused that Donald Trump worries about deaths in a proportionate sense to an attack on American assets but seems to have no sense of proportion in firing back on Twitter or elsewhere when Bette Midler or someone like that insults him.

In a somewhat "minor" story this week, the incumbent President was accused of raping a well-known author in New York City back in the mid '90s. Once upon a time, that would be big news, but times have changed. Trump has denied ever meeting the woman and while I believe he has much to hide from his past, the specifics of this allegation seem a little bit far fetched.

Then, there was Joe Biden. The Democrat front-runner for some reason this week wistfully looked back on the past and spoke of his ability to get along during his early years in the Senate with a couple of racist segregationists who were his fellow Democrats (making any claim that he was speaking of bipartisanship in this interest to be factually incorrect.)

To be clear, I am sympathetic to the broader point that Biden was trying to make about how we all have to at times put differences aside to get things done where agreement is possible. He just said it in a very, very weird way and it is the message that the loudest voices among the activist left certainly do not believe in or want to hear. Thus, I am most stricken by Biden's political tone deafness and propensity to continue gaffes. That is nothing new for him but what I think was a huge unforced error here. At the minimum, you can just say that Biden makes himself look old by the fact that he served alongside Dixiecrat segregationists in Washington D.C. and it was not very controversial at the time.

Biden's primary opponents reacted swiftly to denounce these remarks, including Kamala Harris, a black woman, and Bill deBlasio, whom is married to one. Cory Booker, who used to claim that he wanted to run on the "politics of love" and that "you cannot lead the people unless you love all the people" but has been languishing at 1 percent or so in the polls was quite vocal in calling on Biden to apologize. Biden, (for now) is standing his ground and saying that Booker is the one who should apologize for daring to infer he has a racist bone in his body, etc, etc. A phone call Biden placed to try to clear the air apparently did not go well. Clearly, the African-American Booker is rethinking his strategy and knows he has to be far more forceful in pushing back on issues like race.

The New Jersey Senator took particular issue, and I think he has a point about the portion of Biden's weird remarks when he claims that one of the Dixiecrats "never called me Boy, but called me Son." Gee Joe, I wonder why. Does Biden seriously not understand how what he said came across? He apparently did not over a decade ago when he said that Barack Obama was "clean and articulate." Whether it was intended or not, Biden's own words did seem to indicate that he was dismissing or perhaps even joking about the historical use of "boy" as a putdown for black men.

If Biden wanted to make a point about his ability to overcome political differences and remain civil, I think he could have done it so many better ways. Still, African-American allies of Biden are defending him on this and many feel that black voters, who seem to be the core of Biden's support at the moment, are strategic enough and mature enough to be able to understand what he was saying (would they be saying that if Biden were a Republican?) and that the "woke" white liberals on Twitter who despise Biden will find themselves surprised by what a nothingburger this turns out to be.

Biden will be on a big stage this coming Thursday night and his performance will be heavily monitored. Part of that is because of his age and because he has basically been "retired" from politics for a few years now but more so because Biden is always going to be Biden. He might put in a great showing. He might be an utter trainwreck. A whole lot of his fellow Democrats on stage and off will be hoping for the latter.


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